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11. How is an herbal decoction prepared?

The commonly used form of Chinese herbal medicine is the decoction. The preparation of the decoction directly influences the therapeutic result. In the traditional way, the herbal decoction should be prepared every day during the treatment course.

 

The procedure is as follows.

1. Put the dry, crude herbs in an earthenware or stainless steel pot, pour cold water in the pot until the water is 3–4 cm above the herbs, and let the dry, crude herbs soak in the water for at least 1 hour.

2. Afterwards, place the pot on the fire, heating with a strong flame. When the liquid is boiling, turn the heat down to gentle, cook the herbs for 20 minutes and then strain the decoction from the pot. (Note, however, that herbs that expel Wind-Cold or Wind-Heat should be cooked for 10 minutes less and tonifying herbs should be cooked for 10 minutes longer each time.)

3. Pour another 200 ml of cold water onto the herbs in the pot and cook for a further 20 minutes, strain this decoction and then mix the two decoctions together; the total liquid should be about 200–250 ml.

4. Finally, divide the decoction into two or three portions, and drink each portion warmed over the course of the day in two or three lots.

Because some herbs have different qualities, there are also some special procedures for preparation.

Decocting first. Some substances are heavy and do not easily release the inactive ingredients into the decoction; these should be cooked for 30 minutes before adding the other herbs. Most are mineral substances, such as Ci Shi (Magnetitum), Long Gu (Mastodi fossilium ossis), Mu Li (Ostrea concha), Shi Jue Ming (Haliotidis concha) and Shi Gao (Gypsum). Some toxic herbs should also be cooked longer to reduce their toxicity-for instance Fu Zi (Aconiti radix lateralis preparata) and Wu Tou (Aconiti radix).

Decocting later. Some aromatic or pungent herbs have active ingredients that will be destroyed by long cooking and these should be added to the pot 5 minutes before the end of cooking. Examples are Bo He (Menthae herba), Qing Hao (Artemisiae annuae herba), Huo Xiang (Agastachis herba) and Xiang Ru (Moslae herba). Also, in order to increase certain actions, some herbs are cooked for less time than normal. For instance, Da Huang (Rhei rhizoma) can be cooked for a shorter time to increase its purgative action.

Some rare, expensive herbs, such as Ren Shen (Ginseng radix) should be prepared separately.

Herbs that are traditionally used in powder form should be added to the prepared decoction without cooking; an example is San Qi (Notoginseng radix) powder. Gels and syrups such as E Jiao (Asini corii colla), Yi Tang (Maltose) and honey, as well as egg yolks, should also be dissolved in the prepared decoction without cooking.

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